Sin taxes? Illinois wouldn’t know what to do without them

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It’s just a matter of time, Phil Kadner writes, before financially struggling Illinois welcomes more casinos, sports betting and recreational marijuana. | AP file photo

I would bet that recreational marijuana will be legalized in Illinois, along with sports gambling if the U.S. Supreme Court clears the way.

Fact is, our state needs billions of dollars to pay down the pension debt, to pay the salaries of government employees, and to pay all the bills we’ve been ignoring.

OPINION

Illinois needs money. Chicago needs money. Cook County is so desperate for money that it passed a tax on soda pop that it then was forced to repeal.

Democrats, who control Springfield, have twice passed state income tax hikes in recent years to raise enough money to pay for stuff. The legislature decided to roll back one of those tax increases when it became apparent a Republican would become governor by telling people the money wasn’t needed.

Bruce Rauner, the Republican, won the election, and the state accumulated billions of dollars in new debt because there was no budget and Illinois was forced to take out loans to pay its bills. But it couldn’t borrow enough money to pay all of those bills, so it had to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in late penalties.

We created a state lottery long ago to help pay for education. The lottery has raised billions of dollars over the years, but the state’s school funding problems actually got worse.

The state created casino gambling. People liked that because they saw it as a voluntary tax on stupid folks.

It was such a popular idea that government leaders decided years later to legalize video gambling in some restaurants, veterans halls, hotels and even gas stations. Last year the second busiest video gaming establishment in the state, according to the Illinois Gaming Board, was Lenny’s Gas N Wash in Mokena, with $1,719,353 in net terminal income.

In 2017, according to the Illinois Gaming Board, the total gross receipts at all 10 casinos (305 table games and 10,012 video games) totaled $1.4 billion.

By comparison, there were 6,359 establishments licensed to operate a total of 28,271 video gambling machines last year and generating $1.3 billion.

There are now almost three times as many video gambling machines outside of casinos than in them.

The casinos generated $393 million in wagering taxes for the state, while video gambling establishments raised $325 million, along with $65 million for host municipalities.

Despite all the new money coming into the state’s treasury, it still hasn’t been enough to keep up with all our debts.

This might sound like I am ridiculing sin taxes. I am not. We couldn’t do without them.

People are always going to complain about income taxes, sales taxes and property taxes. People are always going to say they can’t afford to pay their taxes (even those who can spend $50 million on political campaigns without blinking an eye).

People who say taxes are killing them will spend billions of dollars this year on marijuana, opioids and alcohol, forcing us to spend billions more on treatment programs, police officers, hospitals and courtrooms.

Democrats get the blame for out-of-control spending in Illinois. But Republicans in Washington just cut taxes and increased government spending by billions of dollars.

That means less money in the future to pay for Social Security and Medicare, which already were in financial trouble. It means there will be no money should voters decide once again they want national health insurance.

No one worries about the future.

About 70 percent of all sports gambling, I am told by Illinois State Rep. Lou Lang, will take place using cell phone apps. Americans always find a way to pay for the stuff they really need.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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